At SIM Partners, we’ve coined the term “data amplifier” to describe publishers and data aggregators that share a business’s location data where “near me” searches occur. My new Search Engine Land column shares why data amplifiers are critical.
In the column, I discuss the recent experience of a vendor that had pressured one of our clients to adopt a paid-inclusion model on a tier-two directory. Fortunately, the client did not take the bait.
My column contrasts the value that data amplifiers provide with the perils of paying to have one’s data managed directly on a tier-two directory. Check it out, and contact us to discuss how we can help you treat your location data like a strategic asset.
It’s shaping up to be a cheerful holiday season. The National Retail Federation (NRF) predicts that holiday sales will increase 3.6 percent, which is higher than the 10-year average of 2.5 percent. The International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) predicts a 3.3 percent sales boost for brick-and-mortar stores. Retailers are expected to higher between 640,000 and 690,000 seasonal workers as they gear up for the spike in sales, according to the NRF. Preparing for the holiday season also means managing your seasonal content and location data so that consumers know where to find you, especially when they use their mobile phones to do a “near me” search for stores that are keeping holiday hours to accommodate their shopping needs. You can start now by scheduling an update to your store hours.
As the ICSC points out, 85 percent of consumers will search online before making an in-store purchase. According to the e-tailing group, the Number One way U.S. digital shoppers use their smartphones while holiday shopping is to look up store information such as hours and location. So you need to make it easier for consumers to find you when they do online research for what to buy and where to buy. Here are some steps you should be taking now to prepare:
- Update your store hours. Schedule an update to your store hours on all the location pages for your brick-and-mortar stores. Shoppers expect retailers to offer expanded hours of operation during the holidays, but those hours vary from store to store — and region to region if you operate hundreds and thousands of stores. Moreover, holiday hours can change as a specific holiday approaches, and special dates, such as Black Friday and Christmas Eve, might have unique hours that need to be managed. As we have discussed on our blog, Google makes it possible for businesses to use Google My Business to pre-schedule specific hours for holidays and events — a boon for anyone who manages brick-and-mortar operations. But updating store hours is more challenging for businesses that manage hundreds and thousands of locations. If you are one of those businesses, act now. Create a listing management plan that identifies how, when, and who will ensure that store hours are up to date. If you work with an outside partner (such as SIM Partners) to manage your location data, work together now to update your hours.
- Check your location data health. Updating your store hours won’t help you if you publish incorrect information about your address, which happens more often than you might expect. Do a gut check to make sure you are getting the basics right. Do all your location pages publish accurate name, address, and phone (NAP) data? Is your location information accurately listed on all the places where shoppers conduct near-me searches, such as Apple Maps, Google Maps, and Foursquare? Location data health requires monthly check-ups because business conditions change constantly. Stores get opened and closed, for instance.
- Get ready for the on-demand shopper. Make sure that shoppers are aware of any services you provide that make it easier for shoppers to get to your store — and for you to get products to them. In our on-demand economy, shoppers expect retailers to be more responsive than ever. The rise of services such as UberRUSH simplifies the process of delivering products from brick-and-mortar. If you offer any special services that make it easier to get holiday goodies into the hands of consumers, make sure you advertise those services clearly and prominently on your location pages as well as through paid advertising. For instance, SIM Partners clients can add a “Ride There with Uber” button to their location pages thanks to an API we rolled out in August. Get your content updated now to show that you can meet the needs of on-demand consumers
- Optimize your site content for mobile voice search. Increasingly, shoppers are relying on voice-activated searches to find what they need, especially while they are on the go. As Entrepreneur Derek Iwasiuk wrote recently, voice search requires businesses to optimize their content differently to be found. “Instead of focusing on short keyword searches, voice search makes it vital to consider longer questions,” he wrote. “Marketers need to find out how phone users are phrasing their queries and base their SEO campaigns around these questions.” You should ask what kind of voice queries your customers are going to make this holiday season (e.g., “Where can I find Sky Viper Streaming Drones on sale nearby?”) and make sure that you have optimized the content on your location pages to answer those questions.
A one-two punch that optimizes data and content will ensure that shoppers take two critical actions:
- Shoppers will find you because your data is accurate.
- Shoppers will buy from you because your contextual content convinces them to make a purchase.
Getting ready for the holiday season all starts with managing data such as your store hours. Are you ready? Contact us to discuss how we can help.
Image Credit: Search Engine Land
Local and organic ranking signals for brick-and-mortar business continue to merge, thanks to a new Google algorithm update nicknamed Possum. With the Possum update, Google is applying filters to reward certain businesses that are not only physically closest to searchers but that also are optimizing their location data and content for search far better than anyone else.
One of the interesting implications of Possum is that businesses need to work harder to optimize data and compelling content to attract customers locally. Big businesses won’t have an advantage because of their domain strength.
In my newly published Search Engine Land column, “Don’t Let Your Business Play Possum with Local Search,” I share more implications of Possum. Check it out and contact us to discuss how SIM Partners can help you improve your location marketing.
Image Credit: Search Engine Land
Google continues to update the Google My Business API in order to strengthen Google’s role as a publishing destination for brick-and-mortar location marketing. Last year’s major update was about empowering businesses to manage their location data for search and maps, at which time SIM Partners launched a real-time integration with our Velocity platform. The latest API update, 3.1, helps multi-location brands do a better job monitoring how their business data changes.
We’ve always contended that a sound location data management strategy treats data as a scalable asset through ongoing management, distribution, and monitoring. Data transparency begins inside the four walls of an organization. If you can’t monitor your data, you can’t expect to provide transparent data to your customers, which is a hot-button issue in industries such as healthcare. The new update supports monitoring by alerting businesses whenever one of their local listings is status is updated.
For example, previously there was no way to receive notification via the API if a content update for a business location you were managing went from “Pending” to “Published.” For businesses that manage multiple locations, keeping tabs on the status of all listings required a person to go in and look at them within the GMB dashboard to see if anything had changed. Now, when Google changes the status of a listing, a business can be notified via the API.
Other updates include pushing new reviews to the business (instead of a business having to request them), an expansion of attributes being collected, and availability of a URL that takes users directly to the maps results, as reported by Mike Blumenthal.
Location data management is not a set-it-and-forget-it job. It’s an ongoing process that businesses must address continuously, and managing the integrity of your data with publishers such as Google, Apple, and Foursquare is part of that process. SIM Partners talks more about elements of location data management in our CMO’s Guide to Location Data Management. Contact us to discuss how we can help you treat location data like a competitive asset.
Pokémon GO has left its mark, even as its popularity inevitably declines. The game has made many brick-and-mortar businesses more aware of the creative ways that they can generate foot traffic and customers if they are willing to be as nimble as the best Pokémon GO trainers.
And Pokémon GO has made a marketing powerhouse out of its creator, Niantic Labs. My new column for Direct Marketing Magazine discusses the rise of Niantic and some implications of Pokémon GO for location marketing.
Check it out and contact us to discuss how to make location marketing more powerful.
Micro-moments just might be the phenomenon that shapes location marketing for years to come. Google defines micro-moments as, “times when people use their mobile phones to decide what to do, where to go, and what to buy.” And as mobile phone usage increases, micro-moments are only getting bigger.
In my latest Search Engine Land byline, I share how micro-moments are becoming more contextual as Google introduces tools such as filtered search results that make it possible for consumers to make more targeted, context-aware searches. And brands are figuring out how to serve up content appropriate to each person’s circumstances, ranging from the time of day to their location.
Want to uncover best practices to ensure that your business is visible and winning during micro-moments? Contact me; I’d love to discuss.
On August 1, Google removed a feature that allowed businesses to manually edit their introduction/description field on Google My Business (GMB). This news means that businesses with brick-and-mortar storefronts need to pay more attention to their data attributes — or descriptive content about a business — to be visible when “near me” searches occur.
Business descriptions used to be incredibly important for the mapping algorithm, but due to spamming and poor descriptions, Google has placed less and less importance on editing over the past few years. Indeed, Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Land noted that keyword stuffing and spamming contributed to the removal of the feature. (But businesses can still edit their introduction/description fields on Google+.)
The most interesting aspect the announcement is that Google will rely on attributes instead for further details on businesses. As Google noted, “Editing of attributes, coming soon to all Google My Business views, will be an improved way to describe your business to users on Google Search and Maps.” Relying on attributes makes sense from Google’s perspective because structured data such as attributes is much more useful than paragraphs of typo-laden, keyword-stuffed descriptions.
At SIM Partners, we have been discussing the growing importance of attributes. My SIM Partners colleague Gib Olander recently defined attributes as a deeper layer of descriptive information such as product offerings, business specialties, services a business provides, payment methods accepted, hours of operation, and unique offerings within the business category.
Attributes are an important part of any business’s location data management foundation. As Gib noted, descriptive content assists in discovery search, or initial searches for a category. Managing your attributes properly ensures that your business will appear in the consideration set.
I recently noted in a recent Search Engine Land column that attributes are becoming so important that data publishers such as Google, Foursquare, and Yelp are strengthening their ability to capture and publish data attributes about businesses. Why? Because the use of mobile devices has accelerated the purchase decision at the local level. Mobile consumers are deciding where to do business via micro-moments, or times when consumers use mobile devices to make quick decisions about what to do, where to go or what to buy. In other words, the discovery search that Gib noted has become rapid discovery and purchase.
Attributes can make the difference between someone finding your business or someone else during a micro-moment. And as I noted in Search Engine Land, attributes encourage “next moments,” or the action that occurs after someone has found you during a micro-moment. Publishers such as Google and Foursquare understand that businesses failing to manage their attributes correctly will drop off the consideration set when consumers experience micro-moments.
It’s important that businesses manage your attributes as precious location data assets, especially as voice search makes it possible for consumers to do more descriptive searches for a category (“Siri, find me deep-dish pizza restaurants that serve lasagna, too”). As you manage your location data, make sure you have listed every possible attribute that differentiates your location, such as the availability of free parking. And, as always, share your location data with publishers such as Google and data aggregators such as Factual (collectively known as data amplifiers) that share your location data where near me searches occur.
Bottom line: now is the time to manage location data such as attributes as a competitive weapon. Contact us to discuss how we can help.
Pokémon Go is not only a cultural phenomenon; it’s also a location-marketing bonanza. The most popular mobile game in U.S. history, which challenges players to find, train, and do battle with Pokémon that appear in our real-world environments, will soon become bigger when the game’s creator, Niantic, rolls out an advertising model. But businesses that operate brick-and-mortar storefronts, especially retailers and restaurants, need not wait for Niantic to launch the model. Many brick-and-mortar businesses are increasing foot traffic and sales by creating their own location marketing Pokémon Go hacks — and so should you. This post offers five tips.
First off, a PSA: before you attempt jump on to the Pokémon Go location-marketing craze, do your homework. Download the app and play the game. (Chances are, someone at your location already is.) Get immersed. Appreciate the experience from the standpoint of the players. Understand how the game’s mechanics are intertwined with location.
For instance, playing the game means getting outside your home and work space and using your smartphone to join teams and find Pokémon that pop up in real-world locations (through the power of augmented reality). Those locations can and do include commercial establishments, which, naturally, draw players. If your location has been lucky enough to be designated a PokéStop or a gym by the game designers, players will visit you to collect special rewards, train their Pokémon, and do battle. By paying a modest fee, you can use a Lure to draw more Pokémon to your location, where players are bound to gather and play.
But you won’t know any of this important information unless you play the game. Fortunately, doing so is easy and fun — which is exactly why Pokémon Go became a global phenomenon within hours of its general release July 6.
Once you do your homework, it’s time to start capitalizing on the game. Here are some ideas:
1. Get into the Game
If your business is lucky enough to be a PokéStop or gym, you absolutely need to capitalize on your good fortune. You will gain natural foot traffic from people playing the game nearby (trust me — once they’re in your neighborhood, they’ll discover that you are a PokéStop or gym). But, better yet, you can draw foot traffic from far and wide by advertising your coveted designation, as the Sacramento Zoo does by using social media to notify players that they’ll find nine PokéStops and gyms inside the zoo. If you have a strong Facebook presence, try geo-targeted advertising on Facebook.
As noted, for a modest fee, you can also use a Lure module to attract Pokémon to your location (if you happen to be a PokéStop) for 30 minutes. Lure modules not only attract players, they also build goodwill because players know you were kind enough to set a Lure. Consider also offering a deal to anyone who visits your store to set a Lure. One New York pizzeria saw business increase 75 percent after its manager spent $10 to drop a dozen Lures.
2. Host an Event
Pokémon Go is a social game. Businesses can tap into the game’s social spirit and celebrate the players by hosting an event. For instance, restaurants should consider advertising Pokémon meet-ups with free or discounted food and beverages to attract players and teams (even if they’re on opposing teams). In Chicago, Japanese street food spot/ramen house Yusho is doing just that. The restaurant, which is also a Pokémon gym, has hosted a Pokémon party with special food offers.
3. Provide a Utility
Pokémon players are constantly on the go, burning up calories and depleting their mobile phone batteries. Savvy businesses could make themselves useful by offering free energy snacks and battery charges exclusively to players who come into their stores. In Australia, for instance, Virgin Mobile provides free phone charges at retail stores and kiosks in malls where its stores are located. Virgin Mobile also offers free secure charge lockers in food courts. And you don’t need to be a Virgin Mobile customer to enjoy the services — all you need to do is play Pokémon Go and stop in for a charge.
4. Reward Players
Players love to get rewarded with points and the status that comes with leveling up. So celebrate their achievements! For instance, advertise offers for players who accumulate a certain number of points or for those who capture one of the harder-to-find Pokémon. All they need to do is visit your location and show them your mobile phone. Remember, Pokémon Go players are in a happy, enthused state of mind. They want to visit locations where they can play. They will stay and spend money when you reward them to stay. Whatever you do, don’t alienate them by turning them away — unless you want to become a poster child for a business that doesn’t get it. You can also reward players by offering discounts for simply coming in, playing, and capturing Pokémon, as many businesses are doing.
5. Create Your Own Spin-off Contests
Another way to tap into the passion of Pokémon players is to create spin-off games. Consider, for instance, encouraging players to share selfies of themselves at your location (or images of Pokémon they’ve caught) on their social spaces, such as Instagram, with a customized hashtag. Then watch for the images and offer a reward to the most creative one. In Salem, Massachusetts, Flying Saucer Pizza Company encourages customers to share Pokémon Go pictures on social media and tag the restaurant. Players who do so are eligible to win free gift cards. Or you can do as Applebee’s has done, and simply offer to retweet and share your favorite fan-generated images that tag your location. Especially because Applebee’s has reach, the joy of a shout-out and share from the chain is a reward in and of itself.
As I noted in a recent Marketing Land column, Pokémon Go is only going to get bigger as Niantic rolls out a formal branded program. I would urge businesses to avoid the temptation to treat Pokémon Go as a passing phase. Pokémon Go is already surpassing many other apps in popularity, and Niantic is still rolling out the game worldwide. By tapping into a strong legacy Pokémon brand and creating a game with brilliant mechanics, Niantic has quickly launched a sustainable business model. Do your homework. Start playing. And start profiting.
For further reading:
Advertising Age, “Sponsored Locations Are Coming to Pokémon Go on a Cost-Per-Visit Basis,” by Maureen Morrison, July 14, 2016.
Bauserman Group, “10 Examples of Businesses Capitalizing on the Pokémon Craze,” July 15, 2016.
Eater, “How Restaurants Are Dealing with Pokémon Go Mania,” by Whitney Filloon, July 11, 2016.
Forbes, “How ‘Pokémon Go’ Can Lure More Customers to Your Local Business,” by Jason Evangelho, July 9, 2016.
Gizmodo, “Virgin Mobile Has Free Charging Stations for Pokémon Go Players,” by Rae Johnston, July 12, 2016.
Inc., “Pokémon Go Is Driving Insane Amounts of Sales at Small, Local Businesses. Here’s How It Works,” by Walter Chen, July 11, 2016.
PC Magazine: “Pokémon Go: How the Pokéconomy Is Changing Business, One Lure at a Time,” by Rob Marvin, July 13, 2016.
Street Fight, “6 Ways That Local Businesses Are Using Pokémon Go to Drive Business,” by Stephanie Miles, July 12, 2016.
If you’ve checked into a restaurant lately, you may have noticed that Google has asked questions such as “Does this location take reservations?” or “Does this restaurant serve breakfast all day?” Google is promoting these questions to help collect business attributes for locations, which helps consumers during their decision-making process.
Knowing if a restaurant takes reservations may inform your decision to go there. For that reason, businesses with multiple locations must treat their attributes as part of their location data.
In my latest Search Engine Land byline I share the importance of business attributes — and how, combined with accurate location data, they can create “next moments,” which encourage consumers to convert.
With recent developments such as Version 3 of the Google My Business API, businesses need to manage their attributes carefully. Have anything else to add? Connect with me — I’d love to discuss.
During SMX Advanced this week, Joy Hawkins confirmed that ads are indeed coming to the local pack.
This development is not unexpected, and Google has always tested and expanded where in search results they might insert advertising. Indeed, this isn’t the first instance of Google introducing advertising related to Google Maps, and search marketers have been writing about advertising in Google Maps for over six years now. The difference this time is the maps results (aka local pack results) on Google’s primary results pages are now having advertising inserted into it — something that has always been populated by organic only results.
Image Credit: The Verge
Why Is This Change Happening Now?
Google has been paying more attention to the way consumers discover businesses at the local level for a good reason: according to Google, the number of “near me” searches has surged 34x since 2011, and 88 percent of those searches involve a mobile device. During those near me searches, consumers quickly research and discover businesses nearby — moments of decision making that Google refers to as micro-moments. This shift means that although the amount of real estate for traditional paid ads on search engine results pages (SERPs) has shrunk in general, Google continues to experiment with new formats that include advertising at the local level, especially for mobile searches.
What Does This Change Mean for Brands with Multiple Locations?
Businesses that manage locations, especially multiple locations, need to address a number of important implications resulting from ads coming to local packs:
- Organic real estate is shrinking: With one third of the local pack listings in Google’s SERPs now being shifted towards paid ads, the competition for the remaining two will become fiercer than ever. It’s more important than ever that businesses treat their location data as a precious asset that is actively managed, organized, made accurate, and distributed to be visible where consumers conduct near me searches. Because the local pack lists a minimal amount of data to support a local search result, it’s absolutely crucial for businesses to get their basic name, address, and phone (NAP) data accurate. (Read the SIM Partners CMO’s Guide to Location Data Management for more best practices.) That said, it feels like this decrease in non-paid results could result in more people clicking on “More places” at the bottom of the local pack, which would, in turn, increase the amount of impressions that businesses currently ranked 4-7 would receive in the Local Finder results.
- A holistic local search strategy is critical: As I noted in a recent blog post about Google Maps, brands need to develop a coordinated paid/organic strategy that allows them to dial up their voice when appropriate and follow through on the increased awareness by making it easy for customers to find your locations. A paid strategy works best when you complement it with a foundation of strong location data.
- Having a compelling user experience of location pages is a must: For any business that wants to compete for that top spot in these new local pack ads, having a user experience that keeps visitors on pages is incredibly important for Quality Score purposes. The Google Quality score is an estimate of the quality of your ads, keywords, and landing pages. The Quality Score is a crucial metric. As Google notes, higher quality ads can lead to lower prices and better ad positions. (Google explains more about the Quality Score here.)
- There may be an additional benefit: businesses that offer a product or service in areas that they don’t physically exist an alternative way to appear in the local pack results other than spamming Google My Business with fake locations.
What Should I Do Next?
The bottom line is that businesses managing locations have fewer opportunities to appear in local pack results organically when consumers conduct near me searches. As a next step, businesses should assess the health of their location data. Is your location data accurate? Have you shared your location data with the major data aggregators and publishers that ensure your locations are found when consumers conduct near me searches? And since the overwhelming number of near me searches are conducted with mobile devices, are your local listings optimized for mobile? Being found naturally at a local level is getting more challenging in the new world that Google is creating. You need a strategy to support your findability with location data. Contact us to discuss how we can help.